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What's the process for bees to recycle wax?

I harvested my flow frames mid December and the side window showed the bees were taking off wax capping in a day or two. I could see them carrying chips of wax downstairs.

Then I was away for ten days over Christmas. When I got back home the rear door showed that they’d removed all the wax in the flow frames, and seemed to be propolising the gaps. Of course, I can only see the rear layer of cells.

I’d imagined that they’d remove just the capping, seal up the splits from operating the frames, but leave the extra wax they’d built up on the flow frames to extend the depth and start filling with nectar. It seems as though they’d removed all the wax they first laid down, and would be starting the waxing from scratch.

I haven’t done an inspection as the fire conditions mean no smoker, so I might not be seeing the whole picture. But it’s made me wonder a few things.

Do they remove all the wax as it seems mine have done?
How much would they normally leave in place?
What do they do with the wax they remove?
Is there a wax store in the hive somewhere?

I don’t know if this is relevant but the bees are super busy with foraging. My neighbours say they can’t have a lazy morning sleep-in as the bees in their Crepe Myrtle tree outside their bedroom window are buzzing so loudly. There must be a lot of re-stocking going on in the hive.

After I extract from a Flow Hive I find cappings on the cor-flute which is more than is normal from the brood emerging so I figure they don’t want previously used wax in the hive for them to use again. My thought is that they produce new wax for sealing up the cells in a Flow Frame. I, like others, have seen small globules of wax on the side window of the Flow Super sometimes, it seems that they soon take it for use after a few days. I’ve never seen a wax store as such, just a match head blob or smaller.
Bee do really well on Crepe Myrtle and when it is in flower it will be covered in bees.
Cheers Kim

I don’t think bees recycle wax. Whenever you harvest flow frames they throw all the cappings out as crumbs. Also if you leave wax outside bees largely ignore it and don’t collect it. They do collect propolis though which they clearly love.

Can’t answer your questions about flow frames- except to say they repair and refill them very fast if there is a flow on- but tend to propolise them more when there isn’t. I cannot say to what extent they remove wax below the cappings.

Thanks for the replies. Now I have to figure out where I heard that they recycle the wax - I think it was in relation to the comment that the first time they wax up the flow frames it takes longer than subsequent waxing will take.

So here’s another question.
For traditional extraction in a spinner, and that frame is put back into a hive, do the bees chew the wax back to some lower level and re-build it again? Or do they just accept the wax that is on the sticky and go from there?

De-capping a traditional frame remove the outer part of the cell and it seems that the bees build the cell out again with newly produced wax. I suspect they have no reason to chew it back to a lesser depth.
Amazing how quickly they repair a stickie for nectar again if there is a bit of a nectar flow.

Dawn_SD Your thoughts on this ?

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Whatever makes you rattle my cage? :blush: :crazy_face:

I think bees may reuse minimally processed wax, like the flakes that fall off nurse bees during a nectar flow. However, once the wax is mixed with pollen and/or propolis, as it is in cappings, I don’t think it gets reused much.

If you put a pile of wet cappings or crush and strain remnants inside a hive, the bees will clean up the wax pretty well, but they don’t seem to take the wax and reuse it. :wink:

What do you think, @Doug1? Do you see anything different with your packages?

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Gotta put that great mind to work!

This whole idea of “recycling” wax remains somewhat of a mystery to me…and I don’t actually understand how the bee’s body incorporates external wax and subsequently exudes it through the wax glands on the abdomen.

I’ve seen cases where they have disposed of wax outside the beehouse, encased varroa mites with wax on the linoleum floor, used wax left over from a feeding method I use (crushed honey, comb, and beebread) to build a wax comb/unsymmetrical structure nearby that has no function (from a human’s point of view). The latter case is the strongest indicator for me that in fact they do reprocess wax…but I just don’t understand the process as much as I would like to.

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Aw, thanks @Doug1!

I don’t think they do it that way. I bet they chew it to soften and warm it, but then just reuse it on something nearby. That is how they treat virgin wax flakes from the abdominal glands, so I suppose they would reuse wax the same way. I bet that any hard wax that could not easily be remolded would get thrown out though, like you see in front of a hive that is being viciously robbed. :hushed:

The only wax that gets re-used is when we collect the wax from uncapping frames and other hive chores, melt it down and make candles, lip balms and brush it on hive parts.

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@Dawn_SD and @Doug1 When I put a hand full or two a cappings on a plate in an empty box on a hive the bees are super interested till they have removed the honey then the interest stops. My thinking is that the bees make new wax as needed and maybe not into recycling. Interesting reading the replies and thought provoking.
Cheers

I’m pretty sure that the bees reuse the wax cappings in flow frames. That would explain why sometimes the flooding of flow frames decreases over time. I have always assumed that the bees recycled the cappings while making the wax they use to reseal the gaps thicker. Then possibly a thicker cap next time around.

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Thanks again for the input, it’s interesting reading and seems to be another of the hive mysteries.

I took a closer look at the hive this morning - it’s cooler and the bees are not patrolling at the moment. What was not so obvious when I looked a few days ago because of the high activity inside, was that the rearmost surface of the flow cells pokes out further from the centre than the bulk of them. This meant that when I saw the end of the cell was back to the plastic, the cells further inside still had most of their wax extensions in place.

They probably hadn’t removed as much wax as I first thought.

The high nectar flow from late 2019 continues. I started this hive early Oct, the super went on mid Oct, I harvested mid Dec, and the rearmost cells are now starting to be filled. It looks like I will be harvesting again in a week or so. Two months to first harvest, one month to the second.

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That’s a great result in your first season Kim.
From what I’m learning from my Flow Frames is the bee remove the cappings after extraction and they end up on my cor-flute and I haven’t seen the bees extend the cells further out.
You obviously have good nectar there. Had some rain?
Cheers

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There’s no wax I can see on the corflute. I’ve made it into a tray in the bottom slot and covered with DE. I’ve got some dead beetles and some yellow stamen leftovers, that’s it.

We got some light rain last night, nothing for months really. There is a lot of bushland around me, and the gardens are in flower all over the place. Have a look at Woodrising in satellite view to check out how much natural bush there is. It must be well in flower around here.

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When the bees drop capping thru the mesh it is really fine, almost a dust, so you might not see it in the DE.
I guess your area is well built out now since I was last there and I always looked at it a bee haven.
Cheers Kim